Mrs. McLintock’s Receipts: To Make Beef Alamode,The French Way, c. 1736

October 7, 2013 in Outlandish Recipes of the 18th century by M C


I have been privileged to be able to borrow a copy of Mrs. McLintock’s Receipts for Cookery and Pastry-Work which was the first cookbook ever published in Scotland.  In a previous look at 18th century cookbooks I looked at the use of lemons in 18th century recipes, which examined the myth of lemons and citrus flavors being exotic and difficult to obtain.. in fact, lemon, in later cookbooks, will appear as one of the most common flavorings.  But in the early 1700s Mrs. McLintock’s book predates the arrival of lemons as a trade item and instead reflects the foods readily available in Scotland at the time.  For example, she calls for “100 oysters” in several recipes.  Oysters, while this may be difficult to imagine, were once cheap and plentiful.

In Scotland.  Not in Vermont.  And certainly not in the 21st century.  So when we decided to make an authentic c. 1736 Scotland dinner this weekend we had to skip over the recipes calling for vast quantities of oysters.  We also passed on the recipes requiring us to “cleave” or “split” a beef, calf, or lamb’s head, since while we had access to a lamb’s head, and a ram lamb’s head at that, he is still using it.  Not intelligently, he’s currently proving his newly discovered masculinity by charging the sheep shed wall and smashing into it with a resounding boom, but he is using it.

So we settled on Beef Alamode, the French Way because it called for cheap beef and an earthen can.

Take a Piece of the Buttock of Beef, and fome fat Bacon, cut it into Pieces, with a good Quantity of Pepper and Salt, and lard your Beef with a larding Pin, then put the beef into an earthen can and put Bay Leaves over it, straw some Spice on it with a fallot or Garlick in it, put in a choppen of Water and a Drop of Brandy, or a little white Wine for Gravy, cover it very clofe, and let it on a little cool fire, and turn it now and then, until it be very fender, it will take 11 or 12 Hours.

beef1Our earthen can was my much loved and abused crock pot.  Really, this recipe is tailor made for the crock pot, which likely delivered the beef cooked just as it would have been back in the day.  My partner in crime is foodie, someone who can cook things like chocolate pear upside down cake with only a cursory glance at a recipe, and from ingredients in my kitchen (which comprise half of those called for in the recipe).  She owns a larding pin.  I’d never heard of such a thing.

beef2So she began by cutting 1/8 – 1/4 inch wide by 3″ strips of bacon from our locally produced bacon.  This is apple wood smoked bacon and while the quality of the bacon may not be critical, we’re going for authenticity here.  Then a slit is made through the beef cube and a bit of bacon threaded through.

beef4The beef is then popped into the pot, bay leaves put on top, a sprinkle of allspice was added for “Spice” and some locally grown pungent garlic tossed in before we added the “choppen” or pint, of water and yes, a drop or two of brandy.  We turned the crock pot on low and walked away.

Ten hours later we had a lovely, flavorful, tender, beef dish, with quite a bit of liquid in it.  After consulting Mrs. McLintock we decided while she didn’t specify how to make a Gravy she might have used either bread, crumbled, or flour.  We decided to go with flour.

Mrs. McLintock is also rather mum on the subject of vegetables.  After poking through what remains of my garden, and dismissing the kale as “something men will not eat” my fearless cooking companion settled on several overgrown mustard plants as just the thing.  These mustard greens are as long as your arm, as wide as your hand, and so hot they will tear the top of your head clean off.  In other words: inedible.  Fried down with a bit of bacon, however, they are tender and delicious.  Proof positive that bacon does make everything better.

But then we came to the question of starch.  Mrs. McLintock makes no mention of the potato, and while it has been introduced to Great Britain, the potato would not have been widely known in the Highlands, nor the staple it is going to become.  Nevertheless, I’ve just harvested too many potatoes and this dish seems to cry out for nice mashed potatoes to soak up the gravy.  So we went with both 18th century bread and potatoes… period, but not quite period to this 1737 cookbook.

beef12The Beef Alamode (the French way) has a lovely scent to it, and a surprisingly complex flavor profile, given the relatively few ingredients which went into it.  It took a cheap cut of a dry (not fatty) beef from rubber to fork tender, and it stretched that beef surprisingly far.  I’d usually stretch beef by turning it into a stew, with plenty of carrots, peas, celery, and potatoes.  But the richness of the gravy (which is likely from the added bacon) stretched this small serving bowl of beef to accommodate four adults, with sufficient leftovers of beef and gravy to make a soup later on in the week which will feed two generously.

And my husband grudgingly admitted it even smelled pretty good when we popped the lid on the much abused crock pot.

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